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As Lanier nears empty, lawmakers flood Capitol Hill with letters

POSTED: October 23, 2007 5:01 a.m.

A rarely unified Georgia congressional delegation continued to rattle its sabres on Capitol Hill, firing off letters to federal bureaucrats demanding swift action to stem the discharges from Buford Dam on Lake Lanier.

The 15-member delegation sent letters to Secretary of the Army Peter Geren and to H. Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The letters seek modification to the interim operation plan for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, specifically requiring less water from Georgia.

The letter to Hall pointed out Georgia’s statewide restrictions on water while Florida and Alabama have none.

"Understandably, our concern grew when we learned that neither the Basin areas in the State of Alabama nor in the State of Florida have mandatory water restrictions," wrote the lawmakers in a letter signed by all 15.

The letter to Geren also asks the secretary to honor his commitment to update the water control plan for the Chattahoochee now that mediation between Georgia, Florida and Alabama has reached an impasse.

Later Thursday, Geren’s assistant, John Paul Woodley, notified Georgia’s two U.S. senators that the Corps of Engineers would begin updating its plan for the drought-ravaged Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river system.

While the action has no direct bearing on the Chattahoochee, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, said the news is a sign that the Army is beginning to listen.

"To me, that’s not the most significant one they should deal with," Deal said. "If we can keep the kind of unity and pressure, maybe we can get some results."

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said Thursday’s action will help in the long run, but there is a more immediate need.

"Georgia still faces a dire situation with regard to our short-term water supply," Chambliss said. "I urge the corps to take the necessary steps to ensure that Georgians have access to water in both the short- and long-term, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire on this."

Deal said the corps must take the initial step.

"The situation we’re confronted with is one where the first step has to be taken by the Corps of Engineers. They can’t just sit back and blame it on the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. Earlier in the day, during a briefing on Capitol Hill, Deal said the corps was acting as if it were taking "a coffee break."

Deal said the delegation would press on with its message.

"The point we’ve got to continue to hammer is ‘Corps, your responsibility is to supervise these lakes in accordance with the federal law that created these lakes.’ Water supply for human consumption is one of the priorities listed in the legislation for creating the lakes.The entire 15 member delegation was briefed this morning by Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on the status of water in both river systems.

Couch repeated her message of Wednesday, when she said the lake is 80 days away from empty.

"An 80 day supply of water is an imminent threat to our region and that’s what we have left in Lake Lanier," said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. "The entire Georgia delegation is united, Democrat, Republican, urban, rural, in our fight to see that the Corps of Engineers is held accountable for what’s happening in the Chattahoochee River and the releases that are taking place."



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